A wild ride on the canal boat bridge


From John Hennessy:

In our previous posts about the canal boat bridge built by the Union army in the spring of 1862 (click here), we mentioned that the bridge was swept away by high water on June 4. We are constantly turning up new material, and it so happens that a nice little description of the event came in last week, courtesy of Mark Silo of Loudonville, NY. It’s from the June 9, 1862 letter of Uberto Burnham (76th New York) to his parents (the letter is in the excellent collection of Burnham papers at the New York State Library). As you may recall, part of the 76th was detailed to both guard and live on the canal boat bridge. Apprising his parents of the regiment’s new quarters in town, Burnham wrote:

We did not leave the bridge of canal boats, but the bridge left us…. Tuesday night it commenced raining and by 3 o’clock the next day all the bridges across the river were carried away by the flood. Co. D. went down the river with their bridge, and some of the men did not get back until three days after. A few guns and knapsacks were last, but no men. We shall in a few days be all right again.

Little tidbits like this brighten the day of government work…. Our thanks to Mark Silo for sending this along.

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6 thoughts on “A wild ride on the canal boat bridge

  1. not a single canal boat has survived until modern times? Are there any replicas around?

    A canal boat replica on the Rappahannock would be a very popular tourist draw!

    • Larry: There are replica canal boats plying various canals across America–C&O, for example, offers rides on a canal boat, as does the Lehigh Canal in Pennsylvania. I don’t know their origins. Interestingly enough, while Fredericksburg had a navigation system–including signinficant streteches of canal–reaching upstream on the Rappahannock for 55 miles (a failed venture), there were never canal boats on the tidal Rappahannock at the town itself. The canal terminated at the “turning basin”–on Canal Street just west of what is today the Dorothy Hart Community Center, and did not open to the tidal river. Noel H. tells me that this was due to an agreement between the canal builders and local drayman, ensuring that the draymen would be needed to haul cargo to and from the turning basin. It would be entirely accurate to run canal boats on the upland parts of the river, but impossible because all of the pools created to allow transit of canal boats on the river are gone–there’s no slack water anymore. The only canal boats on the tidal river that we know of were those hauled to Fredericksburg to build the canal boat bridge in 1862.

  2. judging from the photos there were a dozen or more… if they were not already here I wonder where they came from… and how they got here.

    do we know if those boats in the photos were Rappahannock Canal boats or imported from elsewhere?

    • Larry,
      My understanding is that the depicted canal boats are from the C&O Canal, hauled down here from that canal’s terminus on the Potomac. They are too large to have fit into the Rappahannock Navigation, based on the size of the existing stone locks.

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